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Do you yearn to hold a wine tasting evening, but are afraid to go ahead because you don’t fully understand the procedure? You might severely embarrass yourself in front of some of your more well read friends, family or neighbours. Put that fear to rest with these guidelines to holding a successful wine tasting evening.

The first thing you need to do is establish the five basic steps of wine tasting.

1. Colour. The colour of a wine gives an indication of the type of grape, age and the aging process. When looking at a wine’s colour you should hold it against a white background (Blank paper is fine). In general white wines get darker the longer they are aged, and red wines get lighter.
2. Swirl. By swirling a small amount of wine around in a large glass you oxygenate the wine, releasing the smells that a wine taster should be looking for. The swirl is a preparatory step for the next stage, the nose.
3. The nose. After swirling, the taster puts the tip of his or her nose inside the glass and breathes in through the nose. It is at this stage that the wine taster should assign a smell to the wine, e.g. fruity, jammy, flowery, etc. Do not be afraid to voice your opinion of the smell if it differs from other people. Debate makes for a good evening.
4. Taste. Only take a small amount of the wine in your mouth. Let it cover every part of your mouth and tongue. This is because different areas of the tongue and mouth are able to detect different types of taste. That is how to appreciate all aspects of the taste of a wine.
5. Finish. Let the whole feeling of the wine sink in. Reflect about what you thought was good and bad about the wine, and compare it to any other wines you had tasted during the evening.

With these guidelines you would be able to hold a wine tasting evening. However, to get the most out of your tasting there are several general rules you should follow, and some decisions you will have to make.

GENERAL RULES FOR A FORMAL WINE TASTING EVENING

1. White wine, when drunk as part of a meal, tends to be drunk with white meat or fish, and red wine with red meat. This is because in general white wines are gentler, red more robust. So you should always taste white wines before reds, otherwise you might not appreciate the flavour fully, it being masked by the red. Similarly light wines should be sampled before full bodied ones.
2. All wine should be served at the correct temperature. That is, white wine should be chilled. All but the very lightest of red wines should be served at room temperature. Very light ones are sometimes chilled. Red wine should also be allowed to breathe for 15-30 minutes before tasting.
3. Don’t try and taste too many wines in one session. After so many your senses will become confused by the previous tastings. Most people agree that between six and eight is adequate for novices.
4. Taste from a tasting table. Make sure there is enough room for guests to move from one wine to another without getting in each other’s way.
5. Arrange the wines in the order that they should be tasted.


DECISIONS ABOUT A FORMAL WINE TASTING EVENING

1. You must decide whether to make the wine tasting seem as professional as possible, or be a casual gathering. My advice is make it casual, especially if it is among friends, and don’t take it too seriously. It’s supposed to be an enjoyable experience!
2. Decide whether to provide spitting bowls, or whether to advise your guests to swallow. I would go for the latter option. Wine was put on God’s earth to drink, and anyway, my mother taught me it is rude to spit.
3. Decide whether to give each guest a separate glass for each wine tasting, or just to rinse a single glass with water after each wine. If you have enough glasses then the former is the better option, but not essential. Provide each taster with a separate glass of water to clear the palate.
4. A pen and paper to record results is again optional, but helps guests to remember previous wines more clearly and concentrate more on the one being tasted.
5. Wine names can be shown with each tasting or a blind taste can be done, whereby the names of all the wines are known but their respective labels on the bottles are covered up. I much prefer the latter. It stimulates conversation, and much fun can be had in trying to decide which wine was the most expensive and so on. Also, if the guests know a wine to be expensive before tasting, it may influence their thoughts on what it tasted like.

Follow these simple guidelines for a thoroughly enjoyable, formal wine tasting, and all your guests will leave impressed.